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  • Jennifer Gillen

Discontent, Novelty, and a Bad Case of Tennis Elbow

Updated: Oct 7, 2021

This week, I’m dealing with three challenges of studio work. After finishing my last painting, the eighth in The Women series, it occurred to me that something was not right. Not with the painting so much, but something about my studio practice is not right. It’s a good thing to feel this little sense of malaise. After all, anyone who is doing deep work, whether it’s a writing project, a design project or a business project needs to attune to subtle feelings of discontent. Often it's these hints that drive a project in a better direction.


In my case, it's a problem with the medium. Watercolor seemed perfectly fit for this series of paintings when I started working on them. But now that the series is six months in, it is starting to feel mechanical. I believe that creating art should produce joy for the artist. Yet working on this series often feels like work. That’s okay because it is work. However, I need the spark of joy to feel inspired. Discovery and curiosity seem to be missing in my practice lately. As unpredictable as watercolor is as a medium, I’ve come to know it too well. It’s time to shake things up a little. Discontent is just a signal that there is more to discover.


That’s where novelty comes in. I added some new watercolor techniques to my latest painting. Techniques that I usually shy away from are using masking fluid and scumbling opaque paint. For this painting, I tried using both and enjoyed the process so much that I worked for a five hour stretch. (See above photo.) Additionally, I worked on some small oil paintings and read a book about gouache. Adding these touches of novelty in places where they can do no harm to the deep, serious work really helps to break the monotony and spark creativity. It also inspires me to return to my usual processes feeling refreshed. Doing something related to the work, yet totally novel, brings fresh energy to any project.




My mind and spirit definitely feel refreshed by adding new practices and materials, but my right elbow is in pain. Tennis elbow is apparently a common ailment for artists who work repetitively with their wrist, hand and bent elbow. My work is highly detailed and I love the maximalism of huge amounts of detail. This type of painting certainly takes a physical toll. Working constantly is not as easy as I once imagined. For now, I’m popping Advil and resting the elbow when possible. Standing at the drafting table also helps. (See above photo of the table propped up to a 90 degree angle.) It’s just a byproduct of hard work. All artists battle similar ailments because making art is such a physical process. Even if you are not making art you may also find a nagging physical reminder in your working process that reminds you that you are only human.


So, now it’s back to the studio. I’m hoping to finish the ninth painting in the series by next week. That's the crazy looking one with all the masked out bits and pieces. Identifying and attacking the challenges of studio work helps me to stay motivated. Doing the work that really matters, means finding solutions to the things that make it difficult.


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